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A mountain of functionality: LG’s G2 reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 10:08 am 16/10/2013

K2 is one of the world’s tallest peaks. G2 is a new high point in smartphones, providing a mountain of functionality and NBN-busting speeds. LG is offering much to admire and enjoy here.

Features

The second flagship smartphone of the year for LG, the G2 is a different beast from its brother the Optimus G, which was released early in 2013.

Gone is the “Optimus” moniker that LG has been bandying about for the past few years, with the phone just called the “G” now, and the number ‘2’ indicating that it is the second version.

Version 2 is more than just a slight enhancement, however, with a new body, new chip, new screen, and new practically everything else.

First the specs, and LG has moved on from the older quad-core chip in the Optimus G to a much newer 2.26GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor which is paired with 2GB RAM, an Adreno 330 graphics chip and 16GB of storage. Just like the previous Optimus, there’s no expandable storage beyond the 16GB provided.

The screen is also bigger, pushed from 4.7 inches to a roomy 5.2, and now sporting a Full HD panel over the standard HD version used in the previous generation.

Connectivity is pretty high-end, though, and LG has made sure to include Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP (for music streaming), Near-Field Communication, infrared, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wireless networking and 4G support across TD-LTE, as well as Cat 4 LTE (though we didn’t test either of these features in this review, thanks to Telstra currently lacking support for either).

Multimedia is catered for with a 13 megapixel rear camera with flash, autofocus, and optimal image stabilisation, as well as the ability to record Full HD videos at 60 frames per second, while the front facing camera can handle 2.1 megapixel photos and Full HD videos at 30 frames per second.

The design of the handset is all plastic, a change from the glass body of the previous generation but, just like in the last version, the back cannot be removed, and everything is contained. This includes the battery, which is rated for 3000mAh.

Few buttons exist on the smartphone’s sleek case, and in this device, LG has elected to use Google’s on-screen soft buttons instead of its own, so these are built into the version of Android, and can change position based on how you want to use the phone.

The only physical buttons on the G2 are on the back, with a volume up, power button, and volume down located just below the camera.

Ports are equally sparse, and include a 3.5mm stereo headset jack and microUSB charge and data transfer port on the bottom, flanked on each side by speakers.

Performance

It seems like only yesterday that LG first let Australians play with the Optimus G. Released back in March, the device sported some decent innards in a solid glass design, but didn’t quite match the specs of some of the phones that were due to be released later this year.

Now, several months on, we’re seeing a new product that is truly ready to take on the competition.

We’ll start with the look and feel of this handset because it’s a completely different design from what we saw in the Optimus G.

Gone is the emphasis on glass that made us fall in love with the simplicity of the Optimus G’s design, replaced with a similar plastic body to what Samsung uses in its Galaxy handsets, though without one of those replaceable backs.

It’s a slick look, one decked out mostly in black, though LG has kept that holographic pattern we saw in the G around for this second incarnation, as it helps it stand apart from other ‘black as black’ smartphones.

In the hands, the plastic body is comfortable, though also a touch slippery, partly due to the all plastic back and glass front. It’s also very easy to see your fingerprints on the back, and is one of the downsides of going with a shiny plastic material on the rear. We’d still have preferred metal like in the HTC One or glass in the G2’s predecessor, but the plastic likely gives LG more room to move for shaping it better.

That said, it’s still very comfy to hold, and LG’s use of curves around the back lends itself well to the shape of the hand, making the device fit naturally in the crevices as you grip.

The G2 is also the first time we’re seeing LG truly move beyond design trends, skipping the regular use of the top and sides for button placement.

Rather than stick these in their regular places, LG has put them on the back, moving the volume rocker to just under the 13 megapixel camera, with the power button in between the volume up and volume down.

This idea is an interesting one, and we get what LG is trying to say: in essence, many of us hold a bigger phone with our fingers in this position on the back and the thumb on the front, so why not have the buttons back here?

It certainly makes for a slicker phone, especially with no bits hanging off the sides or edges.

Ultimately, it’s a neat idea, but it’s also one that takes some getting used to.

There were times when we liked gripping these buttons because it made sense, and others — usually while we were walking — where we wished the volume rocker was still on the side so we didn’t have to pull the phone out just to change the volume of the handset in our pants pockets.

It doesn’t help that the volume buttons are so close to the power button and not easily differentiated by feel, so you may accidentally press the power button when you intended to press one of the volume buttons.

LG has also added another neat control trick that lets you skip hitting that power button to bring the phone back to life from standby, with a double tap trick on the screen. Basically, you just tap the screen twice to wake it up, with the phone returning via your passcode screen if that’s how you set it up.

You have to tap pretty hard, though, and we found it worked best when the phone was lying on a table.

That's not a crack. That's the background.

The screen that you’re tapping on is larger than what we found in the Optimus G, and much better too.

Completely different, this one is 5.2 inches and supports the resolution of 1920×1080, also known as Full HD. With these two factors in play, LG has provided a pixel clarity of 423 pixels per inch, 100 pixels higher than what Apple provides in the much loved Retina-grade screens found on the iPhone 4S, 5S, and 5C.

Eyes-on, it’s a lovely In-Plane Switching (IPS) display boasting vibrant colours and decent viewing angles. Also, there’s quite a lot of brightness here, making it more than usable outdoors in sunlight.

Android’s version was 4.2.2 in our review handset, which isn’t the latest, but good enough for most, and includes LG’s own overlay, which offers an insane amount of customisation.

Practically everything here is modifiable, including what the notification LED lights up for, the arrangement and colour of the Android on-screen soft-buttons at the base of the screen, and even the level of vibrating haptic feedback, depending on the type of alert you’re receiving.

It’s a very customisable device, and we can’t stress this enough. Android has always offered a reasonable amount of flexibility, and you’ve pretty much been able to change the on-screen keyboard and look of the homescreens, however, LG’s G2 takes it to a place we’ve never seen before.

For many people, this will be exactly what they want. Others might see this amount of customisation as too much, and they can always just leave it alone.

We are, however, delighted to see that you can change the icons and shortcuts in the dock, which is something Samsung still seems to struggle with in this region, especially in the 2013 Galaxy phones.

Over on the multimedia front, LG has provided a 13 megapixel camera to work with on the back and a 2.1 megapixel unit on the front.

Most of the features for the rear camera appear to come from a lot of software integration, and include scene modes, ISO control, colour effects, voice-activated shutter, and, thankfully, the ability to turn off your shutter sound, which some smartphones require you to leave on.

Image sample from the G2's camera

Images from the camera are  sharp and on par with other devices out there, and while it won’t replace a dedicated camera any time soon, we found the G2 was more than capable of creating some impressive shots.

The video mode includes with the typical 1080p 30 frames per second setting, and while the G2 doesn’t have the 4K capture ability found in the Samsung Note 3, it does sport a Full HD 1920 x 1080 60 frames per second mode, for people who like to add a slow-motion effect a bit later on.

LG’s music app comes with a neat feature, though, and that’s the ability to play lossless audio.

It’s a feature we haven’t seen advertised on any smartphone prior to this one, and means that people with a library of 24-bit audio files supporting as much as 192kHz can actually play back those files on the go.

You don’t need to convert tracks to a lower quality MP3 or AAC file, and can literally load up the device with high-end audio, which works a treat.

We tested it with audio from Milt Jackson, Robin McKelle, Mel Torme, The Dear Hunter, and Muse, and the clarity was completely noticeable in the FLAC versions we ran through the smartphone.

Also of note is that the native music player has a few built-in sound presets, though if you’re listening to lossless audio, you’re probably looking for the sound the way it was recorded and meant to be heard. We’re told that if you use a 24-bit file – which can come in at around 100MB per song – you won’t have access to the equaliser settings at all, though.

LG has also provided micro-apps for you to run over the top of everything else you’re doing.

Called “QSlide Apps,” these are similar to the apps that launch from the Galaxy Note 3’s Air Command, and let you run pint-sized versions of the calculator, web browser, and more, all of them sitting above what you’re normally doing, with you able to control how transparent they are or aren’t.

There’s also a handy infrared port at the top of the smartphone, and while we’ve seen this sort of technology before on the HTC and Samsung smartphones for use with TV, LG has gone ahead and thrown in support for air conditioners, too.

We had trouble linking our G2 with either the Panasonic or Fujitsu air conditioner units in the GadgetGroup offices, but that’s not to say that support won’t be added later in a software patch.

There’s also the optional cover accessory, which protects the screen, but features a small window to the device, similar to what Samsung has done with its Galaxy S4 covers.

We haven’t tested what Samsung uses, but in the LG case, the small window activates a sort of light application that lets you flick between weather, the time, and the music app, allowing you to check out these functions without even opening the cover.

These screens are essentially what your phone shows when the cover is on and closed.

Let’s talk performance, though, because it’s an area where LG’s work on the G2 really pays off.

The system specifications are close to what Samsung has in the Note 3, with a similar Snapdragon 800 processor from Qualcomm, a quad-core chip clocked at 2.26GHz, paired with 2GB RAM, which is 1GB below what the Note 3 uses, but matched to Google’s Android sweet-spot, which is 2GB.

Benchmarks tests produce scores higher than most devices for this handset, but the real proof is in the operational speed, and there’s virtually no lag in anything here, even when you’re running multiple applications.

Mobile performance is equally impressive, and while we didn’t get a chance to try out the G2’s Time-Division LTE compatibility on the Optus network, we did see strong performances testing on Telstra’s 4G, resulting in transfer speeds as high as 97Mbps, which is much higher than the wired ADSL2+ connection back home.

The G2 is also a Cat4 LTE device, which means anyone with access to a compliant network could see speeds higher than the Cat3 limit of 100Mbps, with as much as 150Mbps capable from the Cat4.

In Australia and at the time of writing, this is available with Vodafone only, and means the G2 is essentially capable of some truly NBN-busting speeds, much like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z1, which both support the Cat4 standard.

Battery performance is also quite impressive, with the 3000mAh non-replaceable battery offering as much as two days of life, though power users will probably see a day and a half.

We tested it twice just to make sure, and two days seemed consistent for us, running it between listening to audio through both streaming solutions and lossless FLAC audio, surfing the web, social networking, checking emails, taking photographs, making phone calls, and generally using the phone throughout the days.

Of likely help here is a quiet mode that switches off notifications when you’re sleeping, a factor that makes sense, but if you opt to use this, the two days of battery life is easily possible.

The LG G2 on the left, Samsung Galaxy S4 on the right.

That’s pretty good, and should impress enough smartphone users, though some aspects of the G2 can use a bit of ironing out.

This is evident in the operating system where there’s an odd bit of jerkiness when you’re pulling down the top notification bar, or a neat bug that seems to pull you back to the top of the menu when you swear black and blue you want to go down the bottom.

LG’s screen double-tap to switch the phone on doesn’t always work — we rate it at about one every three times, actually, and you have to tap pretty hard — and the QuickRemote isn’t always easy to take out of the drop down menu, asking you to add a remote, even if you don’t have a remote.

During our review of the phone, we found that we couldn’t remove the QuickRemote feature and there wasn’t a button in the drop down to switch it on and off, but upon resetting the phone the option was there. It’s likely a software bug, but if you can’t find it and desperately want to turn the remote off, the phone might need to be reset.

You can turn off QSlide apps in the drop down bar, and even QuickRemote, though it's not always apparent.

We’re not huge fans of the on-screen keyboard, which doesn’t feel like a huge improvement from what was offered in the Optimus G, and not only tends to miss out on what you meant to say when you’re tracing words with your fingers, but also doesn’t always do the best job in letting you make corrections.

Keyboards can be replaced on Android, though, so this doesn’t totally phase us.

Loads of customisation options, like the bottom soft buttons which you can change the layout of and the colour of the bar. Screen lock can also be changed with icons and different swipe effects.

The lack of upgradeable memory does, however, and since the G2 only comes in a 16GB version with not quite 10GB available, you have to wonder why LG didn’t just provide a microSD slot and let this happen.

It’s especially confusing when you realise that this is the first smartphone to natively support the lossless audio format FLAC, which is one of our favourite things about this smartphone.

Playing back FLAC files on this phone means a higher definition of audio is possible in a portable way, as you walk, and that’s awesome, but FLAC files are also big, with a 3 minute song weighing in close to 20-25MB. That means an album can hit between 120 and 450MB at the minimum, and when you’re sharing 10GB of space between photos, videos, apps, games, and these big music files, this could become an interesting balancing act.

Conclusion

LG’s G2 does a lot of things very, very well.

Between the two day battery life, excellent screen, solid audio performance, and top mobile broadband speeds, it’s easy to recognise the G2 as being better than Samsung’s S4, which is what this phone feels like is taking on.

The LG G2 offers a mountain of functionality, providing a level of customisation and versatility beyond any smartphone we’ve seen. It can function as a TV remote control, as well as a controller your air conditioner. It will allow you to change just about anything you want on the interface, starting with the order of Android’s buttons; the order and availability of dropdown power controls, and the accessibility of the QSlide micro-apps. You can control the shortcuts on the lockscreen; which app shortcuts pop up when you plug an accessory or headphones in; how gestures relate to using your smartphone; the size of the keypad and keyboard for one-handed operation; whether the native music player can access sound files stored in cloud services such as Dropbox; different levels of vibration strength depending on the type of notification; what notifications the front-facing LED lights up for; if the camera will monitor your eyes to track you’re attentiveness to what’s happening on the screen; the order of shortcuts in the bottom of the dock  – including the ability to change where the main “apps” shortcut link goes – how the apps menu looks, and the individual volume levels of ringtones, notifications, system, and music and other internet sounds.

Without a doubt, this is a control freak’s dream, and the LG G2 delivers in ways no other currently released phone can.

 

As we said, it doesn’t get it all right, and we wish LG had kept with its previous glass body design and added expandable storage, but there is much to admire and enjoy here. If you’re considering a Samsung Galaxy S4, it’s worth putting the G2 in your hand to see which one suits you best.

 

Price (RRP)

$699; Available from Optus on plans to begin with;

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

One of the most versatile smartphones out there; The only phone to date that natively supports FLAC lossless audio; Excellent sound through the headphone port; Great screen; Solid performance; Cat4 LTE means Vodafone users could potentially see speeds in excess of 100Mbps, while the Optus version supports TD-LTE;

Product Cons

Plastic build is less impressive than the glass used in the Optimus G; No upgradeable memory;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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